Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jung 's Critique of Science

In the Red Book, Jung expresses a disdain for science, a disdain that is simply not evident in his Collected Works, where he tends to describe himself as a physician who has nothing but respect for empirical scientific methods. Reading Jung’s Collected Works may lead one to conclude that his method is more phenomenological or hermeneutic than natural-scientific, but it is only in the Red Book that science is placed under direct attack. Recall that in the Red Book it is science with its “awful magic” that has poisoned and lamed the god Izdubar (279), a god who wonders how it could be that Jung is “still alive even though [he] drink[s] from this poison every day.”

Jung is clear that for him, science is a (perhaps necessary) evil. He says to the ailing Izdubar:

“We had to swallow the poison of science. Otherwise we would have met the same fate as you have: we’d be completely lamed, if we encountered it unsuspecting and unprepared. This poison is so insurmountably strong that everyone even the strongest, and even the eternal Gods, perish because of it. If our life is dear to us, we prefer to sacrifice a piece of our life force rather than abandon ourselves to certain death” (279).

It is unclear at this point in the Red Book Jung whether Jung is even of the view that science has in some ways preserved and enhanced human life; Jung seems to hold here that one accepts science to avert total disaster, but in the process one’s life is robbed of at least some of its spirit and meaning. The effects of science are insidious as it causes men to be lamed, poisoned, and lacking without their even being aware of its ill effects (283).

Jung voices a somewhat more generous view of science, later in the Red Book, when he encounters a “librarian” (another one of his inner figures) from whom he wants a copy of Thomas a Kempis’, The Imitation of Christ, a 15th c. book of devotional piety and instruction. Jung says to the librarian, “You know that I value science extraordinarily highly. But there are actually moments in life where science also leaves us empty and sick. In such moments a book like Thomas’ means very much to me since it was written from the soul” (292).

Indeed, Jung takes up the subject of science in a conversation he has with his own soul. Jung says to his soul: “there are people who live without science. But to overcome science for the sake of magic? That’s uncanny and menacing” (308). Later his soul responds: “You should become serious and hence take your leave from science. There is too much childishness in it. Your way goes toward the depths. Science is too superficial, mere language, mere tools. But you must set to work” (336). Ironically, given the charges by Karl Popper and others, that Freudian psychoanalysis is non-scientific, the “science” that Jung most immediately “takes leave of” in the Red Book, is Freud’s.

What is the “way that goes to the depths,” if it is not science? Jung’s answer, one that is implicit in the Red Book and explicit in Psychological Types, is that fantasy as opposed to reason is the road to the depths of the psyche. Indeed, the Red Book, is built around what Jung would later call “active imagination,” and in Psychological Types, which as we have seen was written during a hiatus in Jung’s work on the Red Book, Jung argues that creative fantasy is the bridge that unites thinking and feeling, and thus the bridge that unites the science of psychology with a psychology of human experience (Psych. Types, par. 84) and, as Jung puts it, "the springs of life" (Psych. Types, par. 86). According to Jung, "every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy" (Psych. Types, par. 93).

Jung holds that if psychology is to be a science it must exclude the perspective of both feeling and fantasy. This is because, by definition, science is an “affair of the intellect” (Psych. Types. par. 84). However, in excluding feeling and fantasy, a scientific psychology functions from a standpoint that cannot do full justice to its subject matter; indeed any science of psychology would itself be directed by feeling and creative fantasy in its practical application, i.e. when it is “placed at the service of a creative power and purpose” (par. 84). Jung sees “fantasy” as fulfilling the role of the “higher third” that unites the opposing principles of intellect and feeling, and which thereby brings psychology to life. Although Jung does not make this explicit, either in the Red Book or Psychological Types, he is of the view that creative fantasy, as opposed, for example, to tradition or science itself, is what does and should provide psychology with its guiding values. Indeed, much of the Red Book can be understood as a sustained effort to arrive at such values through Jung’s own creative and imaginative process. Of course, for Jung, such values, are often opposed to those of traditional morality.

For Jung, acts of creative fantasy are exemplars of human freedom, a freedom that is, by definition, excluded by the very nature of the empirical scientific attitude (Psych. Types, par. 532). Reading Jung’s disdain for science in the Red Book through the lens of his comments in Psychological Types, we arrive at the view that a scientific psychology has value but is woefully incomplete, as it can neither provide an account of nor impetus to the acts of creative, imaginative freedom that lend meaning both to life and to science itself; the pretense that it can provide such meaning is the source of its "poison."

These ideas are given further expression in Jung’s “Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower,” which was written in 1929, at the time when, by Jung’s own account, had just abandoned work on the Red Book. In this commentary on an ancient Chinese text Jung is far more charitable to science than he is in the Red Book, but continues to cognizant of its limitations:

“Science is not, indeed, a perfect instrument, but it is a superior and indispensable one that works harm only when taken as an end in itself…Science is the tool of the Western mind and with it more doors can be opened than with bare hands. It is part and parcel of our knowledge and obscures insight only when it holds that the understanding given by it is the only kind there is.”

Jung continues that “the East has taught us another, wider, more profound, and higher understanding, that is, understanding through life” (p. 82). Such an understanding, Jung informs us, is higher because it is not limited to a single psychic function, the intellect, but includes feeling and intuition as well (85). On the other hand, if the great scientific advances of the west were to complemented by a full appreciation of these other psychic functions, “the West might expect to surpass the East by a very great margin” (85).

Jung’s views lead to a very broad definition of psychology, which would include empirical science as just one of (and indeed not the highest of) its components. Within such a definition, philosophers, mystics, writers of fiction and artists of all types, would be regarded as potentially making significant contributions to psychology, and, indeed, even the most cursory reading of Jung’s own writings, reveals this to be view Jung's point of view. In an essay first published in 1954 Jung reflected upon his own career as an empirical scientist:

"I fancied I was working along the best scientific lines, establishing facts, observing, clasifying, describing causal and functional relations, only to discover in the end that I had involved myself in a net of reflections which extend far beyond natural science and ramify into the fields of philosophy, theology, comparative religion, and the humane sciences in general" ("On the Psyche," par. 421).

Interestingly, a similar view was early on expressed by Freud, who observed that his own case studies necessarily read like works of imaginative literature:

“It still strikes me myself as strange that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious stamp of science. I must console myself with the reflection that the nature of the subject is evidently responsible for this, rather than any preference of my own. The fact is that local diagnosis and electrical reactions lead nowhere in the study of hysteria, whereas a detailed description of mental processes such as we are accustomed to find in the works of imaginative writers enables me, with the use of a few psychological formulas, to obtain at least some kind of insight into the course of that affection” (S. Freud, SE Vol. II, pp. 160-1).

Our own time has witnessed a progressive narrowing of the psychological gaze so as to exclude philosophy, literature, mysticism, art and theology on the grounds that these are marginal to psychology’s goal of creating a science of human cognition and behavior. In the process, Jungians, Freudians, and others who refuse to swallow what Jung described as the “poison” of a scientistic psychology have been marginalized, if not completely excluded from the field.

One final thought: We might ask if Jung is not too quick to turn in the Red Book and Psychological Types to creative imagination as the only vehicle to a psychology that is true to life and the soul. Might there not be wider, indeed non-natrural scientific, modes of reason that can contribute to such a psychology as well (history, philosophy and anthropology are disciplines that immediately come to mind). More on this when we discuss Jung's critique of reason.

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